A win on the visuals and at least a draw on substance (if that’s a fair assessment) is a win for Obama at this point. So tonight he moves a little closer to the presidency.
That is pretty much the conventional wisdom.
However, as a McCain supporter, I am foolishly optimistic that conventional wisdom is wrong. My optimism comes from the fact that even though Obama has the lead in the polls, he is stuck at just below 50% (it is true that 2 polls have Obama at 51%, Gallup and Rasmussen, but that is still within the margin of error). This means that hopefully there are still enough undecideds left to put McCain over the top.
Conventional wisdom holds that is unlikely that all of those undecideds will vote for McCain. Hence, conventional wisdom holds Obama won last night's debate through attrition. However, I think conventional wisdom is wrong is because they misunderstand who the remaining undecideds are. Almost all of the remaining undecideds are certainly former Bush supporters.
Think of it this way, Obama's standing in the polls is a reflection of the fact that he has the commitment of the half the population who voted for Kerry and Gore. The reason that he can not get above the 50% is because he can not convince former Bush supporters to vote for him. I think that it is unlikely that he will be able to convince them to vote for him, but he can win the election, by convincing enough of them to stay home and not vote on election day. Here is a small anecdotal piece of evidence that supports my belief:
...when Hart stepped back and focused in particular on the four voters who said their vote could still be won by McCain or Obama, it was telling that all four had supported President Bush in 2000 and 2004. Not a single Kerry or Gore voter was wavering over Obama.
When viewed in that light, Obama's goal last night was to make these voters feel that staying home and not voting is preferable to voting for McCain. McCain's goal was to convince them that voting for him is preferable to staying home. McCain could have done more, but I believe he marginally improved his standing with last night's debate.